Buzzing in food news lately is the return of the McRib, McDonald’s pork patty sandwich that is shaped like a little slab of ribs. Served with slivered onions, sliced pickles and sweet barbeque sauce on a 5 ½” sesame bun, the McRib has become something of a cultural phenomenon. Today there are websites dedicated to locating the fast food sandwich, which has appeared on Charlie’s Angels, Roseanne, The Chappelle Show and inspired an entire episode of The Simpsons as the Krusty Burger “Ribwich.”
First appearing at McDonald’s restaurants in 1981, the McRib was created by the same chef who gave us the McNugget, and the two Micky D’s delicacies share the same type of meat product: Restructured. The McRib contains 70 ingredients, but unfortunately almost no rib meat and certainly no ribs. Like many fast food meat items, the McRib’s pork patty is made from the less valuable parts of the pig: shoulder, tripe, heart and stomach.
The addition of a little salt and water helps to extract salt-soluble proteins, which are then used as a “glue” to bind the restructured meat product together into a new shape, because the only way to get Americans to eat pork trimmings is to shape them into something else entirely. Voilà: The McRib.
An absurd shape for an absurd food, the McRib’s fake rib shape helped to propel it towards legendary status – and its regular disappearance from the McDonald’s menu keeps this addictive sandwich’s cult standing intact. Originally removed from the menu in the ‘80s due to poor sales, when the McRib returned after a sixteen-year hiatus, the fast food chain saw sales rise almost 5% in one month alone.
Since then, the McRib has been appearing for limited amounts of time and in limited regions of the country, its scarcity adding to the hype that surrounds the high-calorie sandwich. Truly, if the McRib were available year-round at every McDonald’s restaurant, probably no one would care – but witness the power of propaganda (and the powerful human assumption that less available always equals more valuable).
The McRib’s limited runs might also be due to the fact that pork prices and availability fluctuate much more than beef. Selling the McRib year-round might drive up the cost of pork globally because McDonald’s is such a gigantic buyer, which would in turn drive up the cost of the McRib and turn off customers. Either way, don’t expect the McRib to lose its scarce status anytime soon.
Or maybe it will just go away altogether – this month the Human Society filed a legal complaint with McDonald’s pork producer Smithfield Foods, which supplies all the pork for every McRib. Allegations from the undercover investigation include “hellish conditions” such as gestation crates, poor sanitation and lame pigs. Like you needed one more reason to never patronize McDonald’s again.
When was the last time you made a sandwich with 70 ingredients? Here’s the McRib breakdown:
McRib Pork Patty, McRib Bun, McRib Sauce, Pickle Slices, Slivered Onions
McRib Pork Patty:
Pork, water, salt, dextrose, preservatives (BHA, propyl gallate, citric acid)
Enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, yeast, high fructose corn syrup, contains 2% or less of the following: salt, corn meal, wheat gluten, soybean oil, partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oils, dextrose, sugar, malted barley flour, cultured wheat flour, calcium sulfate, ammonium sulfate, soy flour, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, datem, ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide, mono- and diglycerides, ethoxylated mono- and diglycerides, monocalcium phosphate, enzymes, guar gum, calcium peroxide), calcium propionate (preservative), soy lecithin.
Water, high fructose corn syrup, tomato paste, distilled vinegar, molasses, natural smoke flavor (plant source), food starch-modified, salt, sugar, spices, soybean oil, xanthan gum, onion powder, garlic powder, chili pepper, sodium benzoate (preservative), caramel color, beet powder.